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Rocking the Cradle of Civilization: An Advance Review of BBC America's Mini-Series "Occupation"

In recent years, there have been a lot of feature films that sought to capture either the political fallout from the occupation of Iraq or the atmosphere of violence and terror that have fallen over the Middle East since 9/11. Many of them have been avoided at large by moviegoers and television viewers, all of whom have been saturated by imagery from Iraq in every facet of the media.

But there have been very few projects, aside from perhaps The Hurt Locker, that have managed to capture the essence of what is going on over there while also managing to get inside the heads of the soldiers themselves and offer a look at the moral and psychological affects of warfare.

Enter BBC America's haunting and provocative mini-series Occupation, which airs Sunday evening on the digital cabler, and tells the stories of three British soldiers who, following their tour of duty in Iraq, are each drawn back to the war-torn country in search of something none of them will ever be able to find. The mini-series offers a searing and elegiac look at the horrors of war, transforming the battlefield into something powerfully personal.

Written by Peter Bowker (Blackpool) and directed by Nick Murphy, Occupation tells the story of those three soldiers--played respectively by Jekyll's James Nesbitt, Public Enemies' Stephen Graham, and Grownups' Warren Brown--as they come to grips with the staggering consequences of the choices they make and how those decisions spin out to affect everyone around them. In other words: war cannot be recovered nor recovered from.

Nesbitt plays Mike Swift, a married family man who becomes a national hero after he saves the life of an Iraqi girl injured in a bomb blast. Returning to Manchester with the girl's doctor, Aliyah (Lubna Azabal), Mike finds himself drawn increasingly into Aliyah's orbit as the two dance around their very obvious sexual attraction and she introduces him to the epic poem "Gilgamesh," which would seem to whisper to their secret desires. When Aliyah returns to Basra without saying goodbye, Mike follows her, lying to his wife about being recalled and setting out to find the woman he believes to be his soul mate. Mike's story is the backbone of the piece, connecting all of the separate threads into one compelling and unforgettable story about heartbreak and loss.

The lure of Iraq is somewhat different for Graham's suicidal opportunist Danny Peterson, who accepts an offer to partner up with an American associate (Nonso Anozie) and launch a career as a private military contractor. He quickly falls under the spell of greed, selling out his sense of what's right for way more than thirty pieces of silver, compromising his beliefs, his integrity, and his humanity. The twists in Danny's story are shocking and unexpected and Graham plays the squirmy Danny with a deft hand, slowly transforming him over the course of the mini-series from misguided to monstrous.

Brown's Lee Hibbs returns to Basra out of an altruistic sense to help the people of Iraq but his sentiments prove deadly and Lee finds himself caught up in a wave of violence and terror that takes hold of the region that quickly change his perceptions about what the US and the UK are doing in Iraq and whether their involvement has made things better for the Iraqi people or far worse. His dawning realizations about the truth of how the world operates are heartbreaking; his attempt to tip the scales of justice result in an even worse outcome than anyone could have realized.

What follows is an exploration of the complex tangle of emotion of those in the firing line. With pinpoint accuracy, all three actors memorably bring to life their characters, rendering them as flawed and conflicted people caught up in a violence that's affected the entire world. Despite the danger of their situation, there's a sad humanity to their interactions. They joke, love, scrap, manipulate, grieve, and make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives.

Ultimately, Occupation is a riveting mini-series that makes the current situation in Iraq painfully haunting and deeply personal, even as we live in an age where we're bombarded with reports from the front line. By making the focus point three men who attempt to come to terms with their own complicity and loss, Occupation makes it impossible to look away.

Occupation airs Sunday evening at 8 pm ET and 9 pm PT on BBC America.


Grace said…
Thank you for this thoughtful and intelligent review. I've heard a lot of good things about this project and am really looking forward to seeing it.
Chris said…
I saw this in Britain when it first aired and I cannot stress just how good it is. If only I had BBC America so I could watch it again. Stephen Graham's a revelation and I only wish he got more work stateside.
Eric said…
Will definitely be watching this now.
Jyl Dowd said…
Help!! I only got to see the beginning of this mini-series before my tivo cut out for no apparent reason. Is there anywhere that I can rent or buy it?

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